The lamb of God

POST BY PGallagher

Seeing Jesus coming towards him. John said, ‘Look there is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ [1].  The Lord approached John the Baptist and revealed himself as the lamb of God.  Christ comes near to us and enables us to recognise him as our saviour.  Seeing Jesus is a consequence of his coming towards those whom he empowers to recognise him. To be able to say ‘look there is the lamb of God’ is a gift from the one who transforms our thinking and our speaking.  Both the understanding and the words are graces. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace [2]. Searching for the truth and finding it are possible because of God’s approach and his power.  The Lord stooped down to me [3]. The incarnation is our creator coming among us and allowing us to know him.

John the Baptist recognises the lamb of God.  Twice he tells us that until Jesus sought him out he had not fully understood for whom he had been preparing. He had helped others to ready themselves for the arrival of one who was unknown to him. Firstly: I did not know him myself yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising [4].  Secondly: I did not know him myself but he who sent me to baptise said to me, the one on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one [5].  The humility of John includes self-effacing service of a Lord whom he does not at first comprehend.  Our own spiritual progress is driven by the wisdom which the Holy Spirit has already conferred and continues to unveil. Like John the Baptist, we find ourselves enabled us to ‘see Jesus coming towards us’. We too know him as the lamb of God thanks to an understanding already shared.  When the Lord finds us, he discloses himself to us.  This is his best gift.  Moreover, his approach reveals to us something about ourselves.  Like John, we discover not only the Christ but also the meaning of how we were before we received some knowledge of him.

Much earlier the Blessed Virgin Mary, pregnant, visited Elizabeth, the expectant mother of John the Baptist. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit [6]. Even before he was born John was alert to the presence of Christ. The Spirit of God is at work in alertness and sensitivity.  John became a disciple even in his mother’s womb.  His watchfulness endured.  The Holy Spirit remained with him and enabled, later, the recognition of the lamb of God [7].   Discipleship becomes knowledgeable and continues to search.  Divine providence presides over our life.  Our many mistakes become part of a constructive understanding of God’s dealings with us.  Some explorations seem to lead nowhere. However, to accept the guidance of the Spirit is to grow closer to God.  He watches over us and helps us to respond to his promptings.  The Holy Spirit tugs a thread [8].  We are reminded of what our creator wants of us. Into our life comes a new clarity and willingness.  Like John the Baptist we come gradually to see who it is that approaches.

The grace of God enables us to make our way towards a genuine understanding.  I give you the end of a golden string;/Only wind it into a ball,/It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate [9].   We come to glimpse something which, if we follow it through, we will enjoy for eternity.  Jesus seeks to help everyone.  I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth [10].  The Lord makes himself known as a lamb. He is an insignificant, easily-lost little creature who is being raised for slaughter. This scrap who comes into the world to be prepared for death is truly great.  The lamb that was sacrificed is worthy to be given power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing [11].  Our ‘seeing’ Jesus coming towards us, like the vision of John the Baptist, is already a kind of worship.  To glimpse him, even without full understanding, is to begin to adore. Our realising that God is so close to us in Christ draws us into discipleship, reverence and prayer.

Who, then, is this Jesus, the lamb of God, who comes towards us?  He approaches us meekly. Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth [12]. We might wish that he would say more.  There are many questions to which we would like a response straightway. Absent all the answers, the Spirit enables a recognition of the Christ as the lamb of God. The identity of those who slaughter the lamb is not yet revealed.  We scrutinise ourselves.  The Lord, destined for suffering, is in our life: might we put him to death?

Jesus is a lamb of sacrifice. He dies to save us. In his blood is our redemption and purification.

The call to repentance, made fearlessly by John the Baptist and repeated by Jesus surely finds us attentive and contrite?  We acknowledge our destructiveness. Eagerly, we strain to hear a message that will change us.  You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings but an open ear [13].   Christ sacrifices himself: worship him and listen to his teaching.  Our openness to his guidance  is another of his gifts.  Christ who offers himself for us also accompanies us personally into God’s presence. You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead here am I [14].  The Lord reveals himself, especially in his suffering and death. The crucified one presides over our progress. The lamb brings us to God. O saving victim who opens the gates of heaven [15].

In the Eucharist, just before the communion, we remind ourselves of the meeting of Jesus and John the Baptist.  Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  The eternal happiness to which we are invited comes to us directly from the sacrifice of Christ.  The heavenly banquet, of which holy communion is a foretaste, is made available to us by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. His is the sacrifice: ours is the awestruck gratitude.  The Son’s self-offering enables us to enter the Father’s house.  His sacrifice unites us to God.   This union is celebrated like a marriage, joyfully and as extravagantly as possible.   Jesus’ sacrificial outpouring swathes us in the right garment [16] for the celebration to which we have been summoned.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb [17].  We are continually surprised by the generosity with which God overwhelms us.  John once more helps us to understand. I did not know him myself but he who sent me to baptise said to me, the one on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one [18].   The descent of the Holy Spirit dispels ignorance and doubt.   The Father, the Son and the Spirit are in loving communication with each other.  The outreach of the Trinity touches us.  Our hearts are open to what is coming towards us.  Here is the lamb of God for whom we have been looking.  In finding him, we stumble on forgiveness. In discovering Christ, we advance in knowledge of the truth.  In joining the Lord on his way, we enter into a joy whose scope stretches far ahead of us.

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]   John 1.29

[2]   1 Corinthians 1.3

[3]   Psalm (40) 39.2

[4]   John 1.31

[5]   John 1.33

[6]   Luke 1.41

[7]   John 1.29

[8]  "Did you catch this man?" asked the colonel, frowning. Father Brown looked him full in his frowning

     face.  "Yes," he said, "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to

     let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."

     G. K. Chesterton  ‘The Queer Feet’   The Innocence of Father Brown 1911, p. 7  ‘A Twitch upon the

     Thread’ is the title of book 2 of Evelyn Waugh  Brideshead Revisited 1945

[9]    William Blake 1757-1827 Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion 1804-1820  ch.4 ‘To the Christians’

[10]   Isaiah 49.6

[11]   Apocalypse 5.12

[12]   Isaiah 53.7

[13]   Psalm (40) 39.6a

[14]   Psalm (40) 39.6b

[15]   Saint Thomas Aquinas: O salutaris hostia qui caeli pandis ostium the beginning of fifth and penultimate

     verse of his hymn Verbum supernum prodiens ‘the heavenly word proceeding’ for morning prayer on the

     Feast of Corpus Christi; the hymn was written about 1260 and the feast instituted by Urban IV in 1264

[16]  Matthew 22.12: How did you get in here my friend, without a wedding garment? And the man was silent.

[17]   Roman Missal  Ecce agnus dei, ecce qui tollis peccata mundi; Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt

[18]   John 1.33